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64th (7th London) Field Regiment Royal Artillery 31

by vcfairfield

Contributed by 
vcfairfield
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2812664
Contributed on: 
06 July 2004

1945 cont.

On August 30th we were informed that we were leaving at 1300 hours but the train did not start on its journey until 1510 hours which was quite good considering that the bombing during the war had destroyed both railway lines and rolling stock. The whole system now being under allied military control so far as western Europe was concerned, worked quite well in my opinion. It was slow certainly and had to be because most of the engines were desperately in need of maintenance, however the trains were running and civilians as well as the military were once again able to move from place to place. And so we left Milan and wound our way northwards and upwards with some startling views coming in to focus as we passed one of the big lakes to the east of us, finally, stopping at the border town of Domodossola during the early evening so that we could dismount, stretch our legs and have dinner. There was a civilian band to greet us, which played many cheerful tunes up to when we left the station. Almost immediately afterwards we entered Switzerland.

Sadly we saw little of this lovely country because we travelled through most of it at night and through the Simplon Tunnel also. The train halted at Brig during the journey and we were able to stretch our legs for a few minutes. We crossed the Rhone and continued north west on an erratic journey through Champagne and round Paris, arriving at Calais early on the morning of August 31st. We were given a meal, had a good sleep, woke up and had breakfast, English style, not continental. After changing our money we left for the boat at 15.30 hours and finally arrived home at 21.30 hours.

At this point I ceased keeping up my diary except for a few days towards the end of December, but nevertheless, I will add some items that may be of interest, although not necessarily in any particular order.

First of all and before leaving England on the journey back to Italy, I had to visit a doctor because I had an abscess on one ear. Personally I did not think I was fit to travel, but however off I went and was somewhat dismayed on reaching Calais to find that from there on our transport would be three ton lorries and with the wind blowing through my bad ear I feared the worst and it happened. Although I had it treated by the local Military MO at every other night stop, the infection spread to the other ear and did not heal until after my arrival back at Gradisca. I had to travel with cottonwool in each ear and whilst it was painful from time to time I nevertheless survived.

Our journey took us through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria. We passed some of the First World War battlefields in Belgium and at the end of one stage spent the night in Ulm. This poor town I will never forget. I was a shambles, an almost total ruin devastated by the RAF but even so the Germans had tidied it up and seemingly were carrying on with their existence such as it was. Somewhere along the journey we crossed the Danube and drove alongside it for a while.

However, the most pathetic sights of all were the small groups of refugees that were trudging along the road heading for goodness know where. I doubt whether anybody will every realise the sheer misery suffered by these poor people and the tragedy was that nobody seemed to care so far as I could make out.

Despite the war, Austria was a beautiful sign and the villages and towns looked so clean and colourful compared with the utter drabness of most of the countryside we had previously travelled through.

Our party arrived back at Gradisca near the middle of October and my demobilsation group was officially directed to be dealt with and completed by the end of December. Therefore it can be seen quite clearly what a great waste of effort and expense went into sending me and no doubt thousands more on a months leave, bringing us back for about eight weeks and then back home again. May be the authorities felt that a strong garrison was still needed in Italy and they may well have been right, but I doubt it!

Well, we hung about for the next two months with little to do as a battery, although I was given some employment in the Battery Office, helping to prepare discharge papers. During this period I picked up another abscess, this time in my nose. It was very painful and very undignified. I felt and probably looked like “The Dong with a Luminous Nose”. It hung around for a week or more before bursting and I certainly did not mourn it spassing.

At this time the division employed some of the Scala, Milan Opera Company for a few weeks as I believe the Opera House had been damaged by a fire and the players moved around giving performances in some of the areas where the various units were billeted but for some reason that I cannot explain I never got round to seeing them.

I started keeping my diary again during the second week in December and on Wednesday 12th my discharge number, Group 24, duly held it official goodbye dinner. Probably in the expectation of everybody being sent off home within the next seven days to ensure demobilisation by December 31st. It was a most enjoyable affair, but later that night I fell among thieves, drank too much vermouth and finally staggered off to bed very much the worse for wear. The next morning I felt terrible and some of the remedies suggested by one or two of the old regular sergeants such as “a drop of the hair of the dog” did little to improve my condition. So I stayed in my quarters , in bed until late in the afternoon when everybody was called out for an identity parade. It appeared that a couple of soldiers had broken into the home of an Italian and had stolen some items including a pair of shoes. I do not know the outcome but it certainly wasn’t me.

All this excitement was followed by a few wet days which made the barracks look even more depressing so we went out to the local Toch H. On December 21st I saw the film “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and then read the book “Dracula” and by then Christmas was upon us. December 25th I recorded as being “boozy day” and it must have been because I did not get to bed until 0400 hours. The next morning, Boxing Day, I had to take a 3 ton truck and collect a guard from some outpost or other that we were detailed to protect. Nevertheless I was an enjoyable day and I was again late to bed at 0200 hours. The only other item of note so far as 1945 was concerned was that on December 29th I saw quite a good show, put on by one of the military units, called “Roman Scandals”.

On January 1st, I left Gradisca together with about fifteen other NCO’s and men from the battery to begin our journey home and demobilisation. I have no details of the exact route. It was by train north in Austria where we spent the night at Villach and that was the coldest spot I had to sleep in during my six and half years in the army. With four blankets and a sleeping bag in wooden huts and where we shivered the whole night long. I was glad to get away from the place and back on the train, but there was more excitement to come. The warrant officer’s and sergeants were in two carriages and the whole train so far as I could make out was heated by a boiler room affair on wheels in the centre of the train. A truck all to itself.

As luck would have it, the heating coupling for our carriage was defective and there was no heat at all so we huddled under our blankets doing our best to keep warm while the rest of the train was sweltering hot. To make matters worse, the train came to a halt about 100 miles from Calais and all in our carriage had to scramble out with our belongings because it had caught fire underneath. So we had to find somewhere else to go and I decided to get into the guard’s van which meant lying on the floor, but at least it was warm and nobody cared anyway!

Finally, I was discharged and arrived home on January 6th nearly a week after the final discharge date for Group 24.

I was twenty one years old when “embodied” in August 1939 and was now twenty eight.

Jack Hyland

Extract from the menu of the Christmas 1945 Party

We’ve always had at Christmas
Our little bit of fun
As a change from learning rifle drill
Or firing a gun

We’ve eaten tinned plum pudding
Mid the smells of old KK
And we’ve shown the startled Arabs
How to keep up Christmas Day

We’ve wondered if our dinner
Was more tasty than the Hun’s
As we sat and chewed tinned turkey
To the firing of the gunds

We’ve improvised our table
From any odds and ends
And instead of beer, in wine
We have toasted absent friends

We’ve had our days of feasting
In the army in the past
But this Christmas at Gradisca
Is for most of us the last

And when we are back in Blighty
And Christmas comes around
We shall think of all those Christmases
We spent on foreign ground
Sitting Pretty — On the Staff

I’m on the Staff, I’m on the Staff,
And I wish you bally drivers wouldn’t laugh
In my slumbers I hear bumping,
It’s you fellows “ammo” humping,
In my gumboots, by the fire,
I see you skidding through the mire;
From my attractie position,
I order stacks of ammunition,
“Sitting pretty”, on the Staff — NOT ARF

I’m on the Staff, I’m on the Staff,
And I wish you beastly gunners wouldn’t laugh.
In one breath I order “Take Post”
And my signaller to make toast;
When I order bags of “Harrass”,
I know its’ you it will embarrass;
When I think of you all digging,
My heart bleeds for you — No kidding,
“Sitting Pretty” on the Staff — NOT ARF

I’m on the staff, I’m on the staff,
There’s no need for all you signallers to laugh,
When outside its wet and raining,
And you’re on the line maintaining,
You must use respectful tone,
When you answer on the ‘phone.
I often think I’m tireless,
As I fiddle with the wireless,
“Sitting Pretty” on the Staff — NOT ARF

I’m on the Staff, I’m on the Staff,
There’s not need for all you specialists to laugh.
You think I’m a BF,
When I quibble over DF,
You’d consign my soul to Margate,
When I check your Uncle Target,
But there’s really no disputing,
That I’m hot-dot at computing,
“Sitting Pretty” on the staff — NOT ARF

I’m on the staff, I’m on the staff
And I wish you bally squaddies wouldn’t laugh,
When the battle has been won,
No more fighting to be done,
And my knowledge of ballistics,
And my gunnery statistics,
Likewise my yen for geometry
And also trigonometry,
Isn’t wanted any more,
I shall keep a little score,
Of positions recce’d well,
Which have been — “Oh Bloody Hell”
“Sitting Pretty” on eth Staff — NOT ‘ARF

Written by the late Serg eant K Betts at Anzio 1944

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Message 1 - 64th (7th London) Field Regiment Royal Artillery

Posted on: 07 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ms Fairfield

A marathon read, but well worth the effort!

These 31 Chapters are clearly based on a most valuable primary source, a diary apparently kept from 1939 to 1945 by, evidently, Sergeant Jack Hyland (see A2812664) who appears to have served with your father, BSM V. C. Fairfield. You say (in A2812169) that "It is a constant source of regret that I didn’t pay more attention to my father’s stories about the war." which, sadly, would indicate that both he and Sgt Hyland have now passed on. The internal evidence would seem to indicate that Sgt Hyland wrote this superb and highly detailed account in 1991: in Chapter 30 (A2812655) he says "at the time [July 1945] ... now, some forty-six years later [i.e., 1991]. It is good to see it published here, some thirteen years later; Jack Hyland's lucky number.

In Chapter 13 (A2812411), written forty-eight years after the event, Sgt Hyland wrote "we did not realise it at the time, but the Salerno landing was the first made by the British forces in World War II ... on the mainland of Europe". Here he appears to have left his reliable diary and followed the many history books that get the dates of the invasion of Italy wrong, time and time again it is still wrongly asserted that the first landings were the Salerno Landings of 9 September 1943. As Ron Goldstein points out, Sgt Hyland did get it right in Chapter 12 (A2812385) (clearly based on a diary entry made at the time): "The day following [i.e. 2 September, but should be 3 September, an understandable error which adds authenticity] the news filtered through that 8th Army, which had recently completed the capture of Sicily, had crossed the Straits of Messina and had invaded the toe of Italy."

What shines through this long story for me is the humanity of Sgt Hyland, his love of poetry and music, his fondness for the odd glass or three, his humour despite the sadness. It also brings out the boredom and tedium of war and the danger and savagery of battle.

Kindest regards,

Peter

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